I love technology and its many promises but sometimes I wonder: Is it really a boon to my work or is something closer to the bane of my existence?
I'm an early adopter. (Predictably, I can hardly wait to see what wonders Apple's rumored multimedia tablet will offer.) Among my personal hardware relics I count the case from my first 128K Macintosh that has the signatures of all the Apple engineers etched inside it. My collection includes early flip phones, multiple smartphones and PDAs, terrific laptops from IBM, DELL and Apple, several generations of wireless routers, a range of flash memory sticks (one with more memory than the early space shuttles had onboard), and, of course, three kinds of iPods and two generations of iPhones. My Kindle has saved my back; no longer do I carry armloads of books when I travel. If I could just figure out how to upload a Trainer's Manual, I'd really be set.
I revel in all the things I can now do that I didn't used to be able to do as a result of hardware and software innovations. For example, once upon a time in a tiny little windowless room I sat next to a wizard who sliced and spliced audio tape with awesome precision. At the time it seemed that it happened zip, zip, et voila! The recorded person could be heard saying her line exactly as written — no extra breathe noises or stumbles. Remarkable! Now, of course, audio editing is done digitally and my friendly sound engineer, Joel, has retired his razor blade and splicing tape. The fact that I can use a product like GoldWave or Audacity and do it myself now is just plain thrilling.
But here's my question: Is technology really a boon to the instructional designer or trainer? I mean, does anyone else hear a loud, time-sucking noise when it comes to technology? For example, has anyone out there bought or installed new hardware or downloaded software only to find that the computer now doesn't play well with the rest of the network or the application needs a plug-in to work but, oops, the plug-in crashes the system? A part of me thinks it's fun to solve the riddles. Another more practical part of me screams "Time's a wasting!! Why doesn't this all work together?"
It's not only new hardware and software that eats time. There's a constant stream of new content to explore; it's easy to get lost in it all. For example, I follow Tom Kuhlmann's blog on rapid eLearning. It's jam packed with useful information and practical tutorials. Here's the problem, his blog often offers additional links related to the topic. So what do I do? I follow those links and those links beget links and those links beget even more links. The next thing I know it's hours later and I still haven't finished what I started working on. Instead I may have two or three new resources and some practical but untried techniques and lots of inspiration.
Clearly there are lots of technological things that intrigue me. Here are a few that I think have the potential to enhance learning:
- Collaborative tools like Google wave groups, twitter lists, and class blogs
- Rapid eLearning applications that allow exciting just-in-time development
- Game-based learning technology that engages participants and makes learning fun.
Technology — Boon or Bane? I can't decide. What do you think?